Colombia’s land restitution program brings families home

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Imagine being forced to flee your home at gunpoint in the middle of the night to escape impending violence, taking only what you can carry or perhaps only what you are wearing.  This was the situation for many residents of Montes de Maria in the Caribbean region of Colombia during the early 2000s. 

I, along with several World Bank staff and 74 participants from around the globe, had an opportunity to visit this region and hear from the formerly displaced residents themselves, not just about their experience of fleeing, but also about their opportunity to return home.  Thanks to an ambitious program of the government of Colombia to restitute land to internally displaced people (IDPs), of which there are an estimated 3-5 million remaining, many families in this part of Colombia have returned to their  land are now able to farm, raise cattle, and nurture their families and communities.

The occasion for my visit was a workshop on land restitution organized by the Colombian Special Administrative Unit for Land Restitution, the International Organization for Migration, and the World Bank with funding from the Spanish government and the Bank’s Korean Trust Fund for Economic and Peace-Building Transitions.  The workshop brought together delegations from Nepal, South Africa, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire and Colombia, to talk about their experiences with land restitution and how to overcome any challenges faced.   

The Bank provided a number of experts who presented on past land restitution experiences and recent global lessons learned, but some of the most significant learning took place among discussions between the participants, informal talks during the coffee breaks and particularly during the field visit which was organized to show the impacts of the restitution program on the formerly displaced families and communities.  The community in Mampuján, as an example, is not only farming and raising cattle, but able to produce their own products from what they grow as well as bring them to market.

This visit was especially important for me as the Bank began its support to Colombia on land and IDP issues in 2003 and I have been working on this topic since 2012.  When the government of Colombia asked the Bank to support its new restitution program we were able, through financing from the State and Peace Building Fund (SPF), to do just that.  Using resources from the Fund combined with technical assistance, the Bank provided support to the newly established Special Administrative Unit for Land Restitution. This support included the application of measures for protection of land and other physical assets, provision of land titles for those IDPs whose rights have been protected but do not have legal titles, and developing public policy initiatives for restitution of properties to victims of violence.
While there are many numbers I could cite – the number of claims processed (more than 20,000) and land rights protected (more than 100,000) - I felt the real impact was more evident from seeing the newly regained pride and spirit of the families and communities as they returned to their land. 


Victoria Stanley

Senior Land Administration Specialist

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